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Special District Leaders Give Tips for Managing Remote Workers


Welcome to the latest issue of The Districts, where we chronicle the people, issues and activities impacting special districts across the U.S.

News Staff / October 30, 2020

More than 90 special district leaders joined our Eastern Region Virtual Summit on Oct. 7 for a conversation about navigating changes and continuing uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The event brought together special district leaders from across the eastern U.S. and featured speakers from housing authorities, parks commissions, water and power utilities, transit authorities and fire districts. Panelists shared lessons learned from the COVID-19 response and offered insights into how they are adapting management techniques, technology strategies and leadership approaches.

Here are some key takeaways from this important conversation:

  • COVID-19 increased first responder workloads and expenses
    The Greater Naples Fire Rescue District in Florida has seen a consistent 15 percent increase in emergency call volume since the pandemic hit in March. Responding to each call also is more expensive due to personal protective equipment and staffing changes needed to keep employees safe.
  • COVID-driven investments have long-term benefits
    New technologies purchased to meet immediate remote work or virtual service requirements can ultimately be repurposed to support lasting changes in the way special districts run internal operations and serve customers, says AT&T Principal Architect Michael Harrod.
  • Crisis communications must happen at a new pace
    Bruce Moeller, a former fire chief and city manager who now consults with local governments on public safety issues, says governments must communicate with citizens on COVID and other disruptive events at the speed of social media. “There’s no longer a 24-hour news cycle; today it’s second-by-second,” he says.
  • It’s a new world for managers and leaders
  • Multiple panelists said managers must be sensitive to pressures facing remote workers – which range from relentless workloads to new homeschooling and childcare responsibilities. Brian Benn, CIO for the Atlanta Housing Authority, recommends managers be results-oriented and flexible about employee schedules. “We’re simply asking staff to be available, do your job and overcommunicate,” he says.
  • District leaders shouldn’t waste this crisis
    Several panelists pointed out the importance of reflecting on lessons learned during the pandemic. They recommended documenting actions taken during the COVID response -- and noting what worked and what didn’t – to inform decision-making during future disruption.
  • Remote workers have different IT support needs
    John Daane, IT director for the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority in Florida, discovered newly remote staff had different – and often more fundamental – support needs than they did in the office. “They needed help connecting to their network and configuring printers – the stuff we always took care of in the office,” he says. “We learned to ask them very basic questions and we created lots of ‘how-to’ documents.”
  • Innovation may not require new investment
    The Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission in South Carolina leveraged its existing financial system to let temporary summer job applicants apply online. The solution enabled the commission to safely hire temporary workers in time for the summer season. “We had to operate without face-to-face contact and we had to use existing systems because we had no budget,” says Gina Ellis-Strother, the commission’s chief administrative officer.


Response and Recovery Summit

Join us December 15 for even more insights on responding to COVID-19 and preparing for the future. Our 2020 Special Districts Innovation Awards program received more than 200 nominations - all focused on technology deployments and leadership related to pandemic response and recovery efforts. This interactive virtual event will present some of the best ideas we’ve seen.

You’ll hear directly from special district leaders about how they are rethinking internal operations and virtualizing citizen services. Don’t miss this opportunity to participate in discussions with our panelists and special district leaders. Register today to learn how the pandemic is changing management strategy, technology planning and service delivery for special districts.

District Spotlight: Data and the Future of Mobility

Effectively operating the transportation systems of tomorrow is going to take more than thoughtful planning; it’s also going to require a lot of good data, experts say.

This process is already playing out with the wide adoption of the Mobility Data Specification (MDS), which is often credited with making emerging forms of mobility — bikes, e-scooters, rentable and sharable cars — integrated mobility options within the larger transportation ecosystem. The specification is used by about 90 cities around the world.

As mobility technology develops, the kinds of data management MDS facilitates will play an even larger role, said Bibiana McHugh, manager of mobility at Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District in Portland, Ore. The next generation of mobility-as-a-service could evolve as a personal travel assistant, she suggested during a panel discussion in September.

“Siri, plan a trip from home to work, arriving at 8 a.m., and wake me up on time. That’s, I think, where we’re going,” she said.

Read the full story.

More Articles Worth a Read

Here are more stories from special districts around the country. Share your own news with us for inclusion in the next newsletter.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority is still dealing with the ill effects of an August malware attack. Officials say recovery efforts are moving slowly to ensure safety.

New Jersey Transit will build electric bus charging stations and related infrastructure in Camden. The move paves the way for an electric bus pilot program that could expand statewide.

GovTech Special Districts Program Report.

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